Girls For A Change: The Summit For Passionistas!

gfc-large.jpgClose your eyes & take this pop quiz: What does a woman CEO look like? A female banker? A girl at your school in AP calculus? A biotech scientist shopping at the mall?

Did that last one throw you? In a quick snap we’ve pre-set our brains to media myths & formulas, pre-judging with pop culture images & icons.

We’re proud to facilitate three workshops on “Squashing Stereotypes in Media Messaging” at the national Girls For A Change summit less than two weeks away!

Girls For A Change is expecting more than 1,000 teen girls and 500+ professional women at the upcoming Oct. 30th at the San Jose Convention Center, to gain the self-esteem, skills and resources it takes to change the world!

GFC’s core values, mission, and scalable model are truly replicable for girls to take action globally…with results and accomplishments that should catch the eye of any stakeholders and sponsors concerned with where this generation of youth is headed…Definitely a field trip outing for the next generation of leaders…It’s fun, free, and life-shifting on the educational front, packed with mentors, speakers, sponsors, and inspiring minds you want to know. (registration here)

In fact, I can’t wait to share the summit scenario with our Women Leaders for the World gal pals in Istanbul who are setting up a GWLN alliance collaborating with Cisco to fire up teen girls in their community to champion change…exciting work!

As for our part, we’ll do hands-on ‘blinks’ and media games to flip perceptions and realities upside down and deconstruct myths and messaging that seep into the fabric of our everyday lives…from cartoon character portrayals and school cliques to ethnic stereotypes, ageism, sexploitation of female athletes, and See Jane’s research on gender/racial disparity in TV for children. (for more, see the Dads and Daughters site, dedicated to “making the world a safer, fairer place” for girls)

Can’t wait to see what I’ve got coming my way with these teens as we peel away our masks to reveal the differences between stereotypes stemming from external media (fixed impressions based on physical appearance) and internal messaging (snap judgments based on instincts, environmental experiences and personal baggage). This’ll be fun!

Girls For A Change has a history that’s grown from the visionary co-founders (Niko Everett & Whitney Smith) glimmer of an idea to one of the most powerhouse well-respected girls conferences in the country. Girls spend the day immersed with leadership, inspired by speakers, performers, social change workshops and–most importantly–each other.

That last element REALLY resonates with me, for I absolutely learned just as much from the other delegates at Women Leaders for the World as I did from the wisdom of the excellent facilitators leading GWLN, so I’m a firm believer of knowledge transfer en masse…in fact, I’m most anxious to hear what these tweens and teens at GFC will teach ME.

Last time I did an event like this at Girls Economic Power Day, I pretty much “ditched the script to go improv,” realizing that we had a living lab of teen girls ready to be bold and create change on the spot by confronting their own cliques and tribes and relational dynamics…

It can get pretty dicey with such a mixed crowd of socioeconomic and ethnic diversity, trading behavioral cues and touchy predispositions…So I sent our workshop content through expert eyes for reassurance I wasn’t inadvertently planting any seeds of stereotypes rather than unearthing them.

When I pinged Shaping Youth Advisory Board Member and President of New Demographic, Carmen Van Kerckhove, (here’s her top 10 pop culture picks for racial trends in media posted on Racialicious), she calmly replied, “well, even if you do, that in itself opens up a new dialogue, and that’s the objective, right?” Yep. Right. Akamai. (‘smart’ as we used to say in Hawaii)

At our Girls For A Change session we’ll use gum to literally “blow up” media stereotypes and pop the little bubble worlds we live within to shift toward some positive energy out there.

Even though we’re using teen magazine ads, film media, and gender stereotypes/archetypes TV to see where these judgments sneak into our psyches, it’s always interesting to watch firsthand as the girls interact with each other and glean their own ‘aha’ moments flipping through the media of “Mean girl/popular blondes, Asian exotica, Black jungle goddesses, Punks, Goths, ” hyper-sexualized advertising depictions that are so cliché it’s absurd.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll find out these teens are so bold and beautifully instilled with promise that they’re desensitized to the cesspool of messaging that surrounds them…If they are, power to ‘em, but the media maven in me knows it’s an uphill battle to remain grounded in that vibrant state for long…

Articles abound on female athletes posed as props and the damage of early sexualization to girls’ self-worth…(I wrote about the American Psychological Assn. study and packaging girlhood here)

And we’ve also seen the recent volleys of vitriolic blog commentary on Unilever’s branding messages, citing the polarity of Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty with “Onslaught” and the simultaneous marketing of the slithering BomChickaWahWah sex toy slop of Axe cologne.

Personally, I guess I’m less concerned about the ‘conflict of interest’ and more concerned about the conflict of ethics in what we’re doing to the children.

There’s no doubt girls AND boys are getting impacted and by harmful stereotypes and media messaging …the tween/teen depression, behavioral cues, stress, adolescent socioemotional stats and suicide toll, cited by Packaging Girlhood) bear this out.

That’s why I’m so inspired by Girls For A Change and other passionistas ready to backflip the message toward positivity and purpose. Let’s skim off the most toxic slime floating on the surface, and THEN delve deeper to start clearing up the causal waters so kids can live in healthier environs, sans media pollution.

Media literacy, awareness, and taking ACTION is a colossal start…

Oh, and I’ll take a first shot over the bow and say “save your e-mails, guys, I’m not buying the ol’ “Axe is just a parody/satire” bit. Bleh. Colleagues have already tried that excuse. Lame one, folks. One person’s misogynistic misfire is another person’s hipster ‘joke.’

As the old saying goes, “I ain’t laughin’”—especially when I see middle-schoolers treat the “Axe girls” as aspirational appeal for the cologne-drenched-Romeos at the local hip-hop school dance.

By the way, if this happens to be your hot button issue, and you’re ready for change right NOW…Check out child advocacy group CCFC…

They offer a handy comment form to sound off on bimbo branding and ultra-mixed messages directly to the ‘powers that be’…Like Unilever’s Axe, and its demeaning boy toy degradation of women, and those silly thin-as-rail-mid-riffed-bearing “My Scene Barbie” HappyMeal dolls.

“Gee, would you like to SuperSize the fries in that Kids Meal to go with the unattainable body image kidlets?”

Yep, girls (and boys!) it’s indeed time for a change.

p.s. Stay tuned as we try to catch up for an interview with GFC’s inspiring keynote speaker Carissa Gonzalez Phelps, who segued from homeless, hopeless teen to dual degree-dynamo graduating from UCLA with both a law degree and an MBA in June 2007. Can’t wait to hear that turnaround story…Sounds like she’s clearly a candidate for our “People Shaping Youth” series. She has a documentary coming out about her life, (see clips on the Clarissa Project website and her press profiles here which show her dedication to at-risk youth) Looks worthy indeed…

Speaking of worthy, here are more links from the Girls For A Change press pile, below, along with stellar GFC Ambassador Courtney Macavinta’s feature on GFC and more teen tips on her own great blog, Respect Rx.

Shaping Youth advisory board member Audrey Brashich, former teen model and author of “All Made Up” for teen girls, will be facilitating at the GFC conference too, here’s the full slate of GFC workshops!

Audrey’s blog, “Don’t Believe the Hype” is back up and running post-baby boy (congrats!) and while she’s in town, Courtney and Audrey will kick off their Get Real author’s tour too! First stop in the Bay area? Menlo Public Library November 2nd. Meanwhile, check their new social networking site (find out about ‘the real me’ there!) and here’s a pdf of their brochure explaining what they hope to accomplish with teens on their Get Real Tour…until I can manage a full feature story soon!

Girls For A Change Summit October 30, 2007, Tuesday, San Jose Convention Center

Reminder: To those reacting with “Hey, wait that’s a Tuesday, what are those kids doing out of school?” (admittedly, like I did) remember, this IS a different form of life-learning…Of innovation, life, leadership, agency…The school of possibility, hope, promise and performance…Of education beyond four-walls, where skills gleaned are action-based and experiential, beyond the SAT dot bubbles and exam cram form of the stressed out student syndrome.

This summit concept and ‘pay it forward’ model for change agents is a keeper. Long may it flourish…

“You go girls.”

A Few Recent Press Links

GFC Showcased at 2007 Ypulse Mashup
July 15-16, 2007

This Summer Teen Girls Go Corporate for a Change
Press Release, Juniper Networks, Inc., June 26, 2007

Girls For A Change

The Huffington Post, May 23, 2007

Goodbye To Girlhood (page 1) |Girl Power: Accentuate the Positive (page 2)
The Washington Post, February 20, 2007

Coach, Mentor, Mold…
February 7, 2007

Girls for A Change Kicks off the New Year with Nearly $1 Million Dollars in Grant Funding
Press Release, February 6, 2007

Tech Credit Union features GFC in their new video
KRON 4 Best of The Bay Television, February 1, 2007

Girls Just Want to Have Change
Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal, February 9, 2007

Girl power for change
Arizona Republic, January 20, 2007

GFC is Featuring: Sponsors like Keynote speaker Carissa Phelps, artist David Garabaldi, the soul and blues of Sista Monica Parker, teen entrepreneurial wünderkind Ashley Qualls from, the hip-hop collective Sisterz of the Underground, Girl Action Team 44…and more.


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